Our ultimate Christmas guide of things to do in Dorset in December

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Ho! Ho! Ho! And welcome to my guide of things to do in Dorset in December. Discover enchanting winter experiences in Dorset this December, from festive carols and magical illuminations to foraging and feasting, and of course a visit from Santa himself!

Where to see Santa

a boy with father christmas

Let’s get straight to the main man himself! If your children are like mine (or you are a big kid yourself), nothing beats seeing Father Christmas in person. Santa’s taking some time out before Christmas Eve to visit Dorset, and he can be found all over the county:

Meet Santa at the Museum of East Dorset, where your child will be given a ‘Golden Ticket’ to see Santa. First you can explore the museum’s festive trail, make Christmas crafts and write a letter to Santa. The elves will lead you from the museum kitchen down the garden to our Garden Room, where Santa will tell an interactive story to the group and give each child a wrapped, age-appropriate gift to take home with them. (2 and 16 December 2023)

Storytelling with Santa at Kingston Lacy – Come on a fantastical journey with Santa and his musical helpers to find his storybook nook, before settling in for a festive tale, an early Christmas gift and a chance to take a picture together with Santa! (25 November to 22 December 2023)

Have a Sail with Santa around Poole Harbour, passing Brownsea Island, Sandbanks Peninsula, Studland Bay and more. Enjoy a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie while you listen to Christmas carols playing the background (2 to 24 December 2023).

Capture your children’s hearts and imaginations this Christmas at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, where they can meet Santa Claus in his charming cabin, a magical winter wonderland nestled within the gardens. A heartwarming conversation with Father Christmas in his Grotto, a special gift and a wander in the gardens for a delightful winter walk will certainly get everyone in the Christmas spirit! (Saturday 2 to Friday 22 December 2023)

On 10 December 2023, Father Christmas will visit Wareham for a traditional Christmas parade and the spectacle of Father Christmas going down the chimney of the Red Lion Hotel! There’s a Santa’s Grotto in the Museum and you can visit him from 5.30pm.

A Crafty Christmas

Why not add a local take on Christmas tree decorations by making simple Dorset button decorations for your tree at this relaxed workshop at The Old Chapel in Tolpuddle. Suitable for all ages, no experience necessary! (2 December 2023).

And of course no festive door is complete without a Christmas Wreath. There are plenty of workshops in the area to teach you how to make beautiful festive wreaths. Join Emma Dixon, resident River Cottage Florist, at the Symondsbury Estate Tithe Barn for Christmas Wreath making, mulled wine and mince pies (5 to 6 December 2023). Get in the festive spirit with this wreath making workshop at the Tithe Barn in Symondsbury (12 December 2023) with mulled wine, festive treats, carols playing, and the smell of Christmas. Or for a truly unforgettable experience, take a boat ride to Brownsea and make a beautiful wreath at Brownsea Castle whilst listening to Christmas carols sung by the island choir, with lunch at the neighbouring hotel (12 to 14 December 2023).

Festive Christmas Markets

For the most thoughtful presents, head to the local Christmas markets for handmade gifts to suit every taste and budget. Not only will you find something truly unique for your loved ones, but you’ll be making Christmas for all the talented local artisans who pour their heart into every piece.

Find the perfect gift at the Symondsbury Estate Christmas Market, where there will be lots of local businesses selling handcrafted food, drink and gifts, together with independent shops, offering luxury giftware, festive decorations, homeware and artisan food and drink (1 to 3 December 2023).

Check out the Christmas Street Market at Wareham with lots of stalls selling everything from handmade soaps and scrumptious fudge to dog treats and bath bombs! (9 December 2023)

And the Dorchester Christmas Cracker has Christmas street stalls, Father Christmas, Santa Hat Parade, live music, arts, and festive foods in the town centre and a craft fair in the Corn Exchange (10 December 2023)

At the gorgeous little Victorian chapel in Sturminster Newton, Handmade for Christmas celebrates proper making by hand. With over 70 local makers from across Dorset and surrounding counties selling high quality hand-crafted Jewellery, Ceramics, Textiles, Glass, Cards, Artwork and much, much more, you’ll find the perfect handmade gift (9 November to 24 December 2023).

Or take a stroll along Swanage seafront, where you’ll find Artisans on the Beach – 30 beach-huts that house local crafters over the festive season with the ideal creative gifts for you and your loved ones (25 November to 31 December 2023).

Christmas Carols

Get in the Christmas spirit with a good old fashioned sing along of traditional carols. Join the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Orchestra for a traditional Christmas carols sing-along at The Spire, Poole (23 December 2023), Carols Round the Christmas Tree in Lyme Regis town centre (23 December 2023) or the Big Christmas Sing A Long at the Spire in Poole with a full symphony orchestra and choir (2 December 2023).

Christmas Concerts and Shows

From rock n roll and carols to the Messiah and musical favourites, there are concerts to suit every taste around Dorset this Christmas… some will even be having a singalong:

  • For a slightly different experience, try the Crick Crack Club Christmas Carol Show at the Cranbourne Earthouse has carols, stories, chaotic sing-alongs, and Christmas tree shrines – it’s a family show in the afternoon and for adults in the evening (2 December 2023).
  • Support the young singers of the University Music Bournemouth Chamber Choir at their Advent carol service at St Peter’s Church, Dorchester (2 December 2023)
  • A traditional classic, Handel’s Messiah with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at the Lighthouse, Poole (13 December 2023)
  • A fun concert for all the family, Christmas Crackers at The Exchange, Sturminster Newton will have festive favourites and magical winter music brought to you by ten musicians from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (15 December 2023).
  • Elf the Musical, the hit Hollywood blockbuster movie supersized into a live arena spectacular at the Bournemouth International Centre. Featuring Santa’s flying sleigh, audience snowball fight, indoor snowstorm, a giant candy cane journey from the North Pole and aerial cirque stars (15 to 16 December 2023)
  • Join Squash the Christmas Elf and Santa’s only daughter Joy as they travel through time to save Santa at the Christmas Spectacular at the Regent Centre, Bournemouth (16 to 24 December 2023).
  • Last Night of the Christmas Proms seasonal favourites and festive fun with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at the Lighthouse, Poole (16 December 2023)
  • Described as the best rock ‘n’ roll show on the road by TimeOut, That’ll Be The Day Christmas Show at the Bournemouth International Centre promises the very best rock and pop classics, as well as all your favourite Christmas songs, and hilarious comedy (17 December 2023).
  • The Christmas Cracker at Bournemouth Pavilion, with carols played on the Compton Organ accompanied by the senior choir of the Big Little Theatre School (18 December 2023).
  • Award winning community choir Vivamente Voice’s Annual Christmas Concert, at the beautiful and atmospheric Canford School, with special guest performance by the award-winning barbershop quartet, Chromatix (20 December 2023).


“He’s behind you! Or no he isn’t!” Who can resist the most English of Christmas traditions, the good old panto. There’s fun for all the family with Cinderella at the Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne Minster (15 December to 1 January 2024), or a risqué adults only performance on 29 and 30 December 2023 and 2 January 2024. Or see perennial favourite Snow White at Weymouth Pavilion (16 to 31 December 2023) and Bournemouth Pavilion (2 to 31 December 2023).

Festive activities

Welcome in Christmas with a very special wild Forage and Feast event at a stunning spot in Studland where you can enjoy nature’s own larder in an idyllic seaside setting. It includes a foraging walk, demos, a scrumptious 3 course meal, wild cocktail to start and wine with the meal (2 December 2023).

Join the magical morning Winter Solstice Guided Walk to view the sunrise from Old Harry Rocks on the shortest day of the year followed by a full English breakfast at the Knoll Beach Cafe (21 December 2023).

Get into the festive spirit with a visit to Corfe Castle where you can discover winter traditions old and new. Join the Lord of Misrule on an interactive storytelling tour of the castle or help Monty Mouse on his hunt for a festive feast with our new family trail. Warm up around the fire pits, roast marshmallows or make a Christmas wish on our wishing bridge (2 to 3 December 2023).

Work off those mince pies and do some good with the 2km Elf Dash starting from Branksome Dene Seafront to raise money to bring festive cheer to the local children’s wards (2 December 2023) and the Lyme Lunge in Lyme Regis, the annual New Year’s day fancy dress dip in the sea which this year is raising funds for the British Heart Foundation, Mencap and Rotary charities (1 January 2024).

Explore Highcliffe Castle at night in all its festive glory accompanied by a complimentary glass of mulled wine and a little bit of late-night shopping in the extended gift shop. Immerse yourself in ‘pieces of our past’, their brand new exhibition for 2024 and take in the stunning festive atmosphere around the castle (8 December 2023).

All aboard the Polar Express, departing from Swanage Railway Station, for an hour long experience with actors appearing as characters from the book and film of THE POLAR EXPRESS™, singing, dancing, hot chocolate and a cookie on the journey, and a special present on the return journey from the North Pole (18 November to 30 December 2023).

Visit Bournemouth over the festive season to see their Christmas Tree Wonderland, a spectacular Christmas tree trail, enchanting illuminations and seasonal family fun! Experience the magical spectacle of hundreds of glittering trees from around the world, explore the Alpine Market and skate under the stars in the enchanting Victorian gardens (18 November 2023 to 2 January 2024).

The evenings come alive this winter at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, when colourful lights illuminate the rare plants and trees on a enchanted winter trail around the 18th century gardens. Marvel at the shapes and textures highlighted by these spectacular colours as the lights transform the gardens into something quite magical. A wonderful evening out with your family and friends – four legged ones included! This is a dog friendly attraction, so you are welcome to bring your furry friend on a lead. (Friday 24 November 2023 to Sunday 31 December 2023).

Image credits: Santa (Kelly Sue DeConnick via Flickr), Caroler (Tony Alter via Flickr), Christmas Market (Cloud via Flickr) Christmas tree (Bradford Fults via Flickr)